ECU students listen carefully to discussion of preparedness efforts during a panel discussion of Ebola and campus readiness. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
Ebola preparation continues at ECU
Among the ongoing efforts of campus officials:
The ECU Communicable Disease Planning Committee (CDPC) has been meeting since early August, and had identified/made contact with international students for monitoring health before fall semester. The group located no study abroad or exchange programs in the affected countries.
The CDPC has been participating in weekly conference calls with N.C. Department of Health & Human Services, N.C. Division of Public Health, UNC General Administration, and others as available.
Officials are reviewing the Communicable Disease Outbreak Management Plan and applicable documents, policies and procedures.
The CDPC continues working with local partners such as Pitt County Emergency Management, Pitt County Public Health, Pitt County EMS and Greenville Fire & Rescue.
ECU communicated a formal university travel restriction explaining that no nonessential travel to CDC travel-warned countries.
While worldwide reports of Ebola infections have recently ebbed, East Carolina University graduate student Issa Thullah knows it’s still a major issue in his hometown of Freetown, Sierra Leone.
But after participating in a panel discussion on the global impact of the epidemic last month, Thullah said people began asking specifically about preparedness in Greenville.
“Fellow students seemed genuinely worried about the prospect of there being an Ebola case on campus and they didn’t know what ECU was doing to prepare,” Thullah said.
So he organized a second panel discussion featuring ECU, Greenville and Pitt County representatives to address these questions, which took place Nov. 17 on campus.
The panel included: Bill Koch, Environmental Health & Campus Safety; Dr. Timothy Kelley, Environmental Health Sciences; Dr. Paul Barry, Prospective Health; Shannon Terry, Greenville Fire & Rescue; Jolene Jernigan, Student Health Services; Truman Vereen, moderator and president of the ECU Public Health Organization; and Kathy Sheppard, Pitt County Health Department.
Each presenter shared preparations made in their respective areas, including a formal travel restriction by the university, new protocols and protective gear for Greenville EMS responders, and extensive training for the Pitt County Health Department.
Panelists agreed that the likelihood of seeing an Ebola case in Greenville is extremely low; Barry suggested it was “as likely as a full head of hair sprouting up from (his) bald head.” But they said it was their responsibility to be prepared for it nonetheless.
“I heard someone say one time ‘the only thing more expensive than education is ignorance,’” said Kelley. “In this case, I’d say the only thing more expensive than preparing is not preparing.”
Following a question from the audience, the group also discussed the media exaggeration surrounding Ebola cases in the U.S. The consensus was that the issue has been framed to create panic.
Despite the fact that the U.S. cases originated overseas, Barry explained, “The media is driven by sensationalism, so to them, this could be like the second coming of the plague.”
As the event organizer, Thullah was inspired by international activism long before the Ebola epidemic. In 2013, he and undergraduate student Sara Kurtz founded a 501c3 non-profit organization called Project Tumara, focused on scholarship opportunities and sustainable community development in Freetown.
“We work in Portee, an impoverished community in Freetown, where we are sponsoring the education of 35 students, ranging from primary school to college level,” Thullah said. He said as many as 60 percent of students in Freetown drop out of school by the age of 13 to assist their families with income, despite having career dreams of their own.
Along with the ECU Public Health Organization, Ledonia Wright Cultural Center and others, Project Tumara was a supporting organization of the panel discussion.